As evidenced by my beginner’s guide to setting up your bar at home, I love mixing drinks. It’s an exciting interest that friends always love to be around for. If you have a friend like me, it’s likely that he or she already owns the standard bar tool set you spotted at West Elm, but trust me, there are dozens of other gifts you can give! With under-the-radar spirits and liqueurs and beautiful and professional bar accessories, this gift guide has you covered.
Bols Barrel Aged Genever ($49)
Bols has been producing genever, a malty Dutch gin, in Holland since 1664. Just introduced to America in 2008, it hasn’t yet achieved critical mass, so it’s very likely something your friends haven’t tried. Bols Barrel Aged Genever is an extra-special limited-edition product, inspired by the American tradition of aging bourbon. The 19th-century recipe is aged for over two years in Limousin oak casks, imparting a rich, oaky, and sweet flavor. A superb and unusual gift.
Yarai Large Seamless Mixing Glass ($45)
Just like any chef can cook a great meal with a lousy frying pan, a good bartender could make a great cocktail with a basic shaker if need be. But if you’re really into making drinks, it’s fun to upgrade to the good stuff. The Japanese-made Yarai mixing glass is what pro bartenders use for cocktails that only need to be stirred and/or strained, not shaken (like a martini or the Manhattan). You’ll see it on the counter of every posh cocktail bar. With its totally beautiful diamond-cut crystal, it would be a thrill to open on Christmas Day.
Purely Syrup Infused Simple Syrups ($13)
Infused simple syrups are one of the most fun tools for a cocktail enthusiast. You can, of course, make your own, but I love this line of syrups produced by Northern California company Purely Syrup. Their syrups are small-batch, organic, and available in several delicious flavors: classic, ginger root, grapefruit, habanero, and vanilla bean.
Not only are the flavors really versatile for a number of drinks, they’re also consistent every time… something you certainly can’t say for homemade syrups! I’d recommend picking up three or the whole lot and letting your friends go wild with experimentation.
Drinks ($24) by Tony Conigliaro
This book by British bartender Tony Conigliaro, who owns two of London’s top cocktail bars (69 Colebrook Row and Zetter Townhouse) is one of a kind and a ground-breaking look at the science of making drinks. It’s not your usual cocktail recipe roundup; it gives insight into the workings of Conigliaro’s Drink Factory, which pushes the boundaries of every pre-conceived notion you ever had about any beverage.
Conigliaro is a mixologist in the truest sense of the word, and in this book, he shares information on the tools he uses to make his drinks (like a bain-marie, a sous-vide, and a Thermomix) and advanced recipes for taking classic and specialty cocktails to the next level. (Think a Bloody Mary made with horseradish-infused vodka and shallot juice, drinks based on perfume, or savory cocktails like the white truffle martini.)
Bigallet China-China Amer Liqueur ($45)
I love the idea of giving a liqueur as a gift because it’s not something people often “re-stock” or even purchase for their homes, and it will inspire beginning mixologists to get creative with new recipes.
There are new liqueurs on the market all the time, but China-China has been produced in France since the 1870s by the Bigallet family, so it’s tried and true! Made with sweet and bitter oranges, along with spices and roots like anise, gentian, cinchona, and clove, it has vibrant orange aromatics and herbal and vegetal hints. I like it in a Negroni or on the rocks with a twist.
Über Bar Tools ProBostonRoll Delux ($250)
Really want to blow a friend out of the water? Über Bar Tools’ ProBostonRoll Delux is the top of the pops when it comes to bar tools. The 17-piece kit is the ultimate bartending arsenal and includes everything from tweezers and a stainless steel knife to a lemon zester, julep strainer, and oh yes, a security buckle, because you’ve got to keep this gear on lockdown.
Cocktail Kingdom 55MM Ice Ball Maker ($150)
I’m not someone who is particular about ice or water (as long as it’s clean), although there are plenty of spirits enthusiasts who are. Nevertheless, the thought of owning one of these fancy ice-ball makers is pretty exciting. It’s something most people would never purchase for themselves, so it makes a great gift if you’re looking for something in the $150 range.
MiddleBar Aged Bloody Mary Growler ($28)
I recently discovered this small-batch cocktail accoutrement brand, MiddleBar, and it’s the best newcomer I’ve seen in a while. Started by a long-time bartender with Louisiana roots, MiddleBar makes hands-down the most delicious Bloody Mary mix I’ve ever had. Pair that with their artisan pickles (including celery, string beans, and cucumbers), and you have an unrivaled mid-day cocktail.
Suerte Tequila Reposado ($44)
Have a tequila enthusiast in your life? Don't reach for that same round-topped bottle you always give. There are so many great tequilas on the market to explore. One robust bottle to try is Suerte's Reposado. It's aged for seven months in charred American white oak barrels and has a lot of interesting aromas (like plum, butterscotch, and, of course, oak). Better yet, it has a great price point at just under $45.
Amy Stewart The Drunken Botanist ($15)
As important as knowing what makes up a good drink is knowing what produces a good spirit. Author and botanist Amy Stewart has enlightened us all about the plants that are used to create the world's greatest spirits, from agave to walnuts, with her revolutionary book The Drunken Botanist, which was released last year. After nailing a few great cocktails, anyone who has developed an interest in drinks should dive into this book: it will open up a world of spirits.
Usagi Heavyweight Cobbler Shaker ($70)
Copper was one of the most popular metals this year, so this copper-plated cobbler shaker is not only functional and beautiful, but also an on-trend gift. Want to give the whole set? Cocktail Kingdom also sells copper-plated jiggers, strainers, bar spoons, and more.
Caskers Choose Your Own Adventure Spirits Club ($110 and up)
Caskers is my new favorite online shop for spirits. The shop has a great selection of small-batch and artisanal spirits at all different price points. If you can’t decide what to buy, Caskers also has several “choose your own adventure” spirits clubs, which will ship three unique hand-selected bottles of whiskey, vodka, or a mixture of spirits to your friend’s door every three months.
PUG! Handmade Jatoba Muddler ($48)
A muddler is something I use all the time because I love making to make drinks with fruit, vegetables, and herbs. The cheap ones do tend to wear out (and splinter!), so it’s always nice to have a new one—even better to receive one that will last a lifetime. Hand-turned on a lathe by a craftsman in New York’s Hudson River Valley, PUG! muddlers are really something special. They’re made in a variety of hardwoods, including maple, cherry, and jatoba (or Brazilian cherry).
Galliano L’Autentico Liqueur ($35)
Galliano is a sweet herbal Italian liqueur made with a handful of herbal extracts including Mediterranean anise, juniper, lavender, ginger, citrus, and musk yarrow. It can be used as a digestive or as a cocktail ingredient, and it's a fun and festive addition to any friend's bar. Created in 1896, it’s essential to a number of classic and modern cocktails, including the refreshing Golden Dream, made with Galliano, Cointreau, orange juice, and cream.
Usagi Cobbler Shaker Dog Toy ($9)
Have a bartending friend who’s also a dog lover? This cobbler shaker dog toy could not be a more perfect gift—or stocking stuffer!
What bar-related gifts do you recommend? Do you have any favorite spirits you’re loving lately? Share your ideas with us below.